Author Archives: fictorians

On Setting

A guest post by Ramón Terrell

The resident dictionary in my computer defines setting as “the place in time in which a play, novel, or film is represented as happening. As is its job, the ole dictionary gives you a sterile definition of something much more … alive.

A novel’s setting is its history, its present, and its future. It is the body inside which the story lives. Without it, you just have characters in a vacuum. I’m reminded of the time I took a mocap (short for motion capture) class. After I slinked into the skintight black mocap suit, and they fitted me with all the little white dots, I moved into the center of the circular space to go through the motions.

There was a giant screen on the far wall that displayed my movements in the form of all the dots on my body. For the purposes of this post, I’ll gloss over my elation at imitating Ken and Ryu movments from Street Fighter, or Scorpion and Sub Zero from Mortal Kombat. Or even Eddie Gordo from Tekken. While those moments were a fun and laughter-inducing reliving of childhood/young adulthood, the memory of this adds a layer to this subject. The character in a vacuum.

While I was busy playing characters onscreen, the guys on the computer were creating a troll to inhabit the white dots that I provided. Soon we had a big hulking troll monster on screen, and I was its brain. Now, while seeing the guys behind the computer screen work their magic so quickly was cool, and me making the thing move even cooler, it sat on a screen, by itself, in a vacuum. The truth is, they could have gone on to inhabit that screen with thirty more trolls, included a giant, or even a dragon. But at the end of the day, they would all have been really cool figures in a vacuum devoid of any life but themselves.

Setting, is not just the location a story takes place. It’s not just a mass of buildings, mountains, lakes, flowers and trees. It’s a character in the story, whether background or lead. In The Lord of the Rings, Middle Earth was very much a main character of that series. The sense of vastness and wonder of the place, the mines of Moria, the forests home to powerful sprites such as Tom Bombadil, the lush green homes of the Ents, on their endless search for the Ent Wives, who probably left because they were tired of picking up after their Ent husbands. The darkness and evil of Kazaad Dum. It goes on and on.

The setting is everything that a character loves or hates about their lives, their situation, their past, the anxiety of their future. It is that place of danger and deviousness that the protagonist has been told to avoid, yet dreads the inevitability of her having to go. Throughout her journey to this horrible land, the protagonist is filled with worry about what she will find there. She mentally and even physically prepares herself for the sly, conniving men, the whip-like wit of the women, and the defiant children she will encounter. She hones her senses, wary of the packs of feral dogs roving the city borders, the twisted and gnarled trees reaching their clawed branches over the trail to snatch up foolish travelers passing through the dark night. She thinks of the black buildings, sitting prostrate before the giant black tower glaring down on them.

But when our protagonist reaches what her friends have described as this place of unending darkness and despair, she discovers a city with buildings dark of color that appear black at night, but are quite beautifully designed homes, pavilions, tailor shops, bakeries. The old gnarled trees are actually thousands of years old, and she can feel the silent wisdom of many ages past wafting from the regal figures. Packs of dogs do indeed rove the city limits, chasing off bears, making wolves think twice about venturing too close to the meadow where families like to picnic. The families bring extra food that they happily share with their canine protectors.

The men of the city are excellent at a game called Spy’s Eye, in which their team uses treachery and deceit to win over their opponents. It is such a beloved game that they playfully prank each other in daily life. Women have a whip-like wit that is seemingly present at birth, since the society is matriarchal, and women hold the most powerful positions of politics.

Children are trained from a young age to be strong of mind, for the world is dangerous outside the borders of their home, and one never knows what or whom they will encounter during their travels.

Our protagonist is instantly overwhelmed at the sight of the dark-colored buildings downhill from the huge tower that provides a breathtaking view of the surrounding land. It is a tower of observation that all may enjoy. Climbing the steps of the tower is a tiresome affair that not many will complete, yet those who do reach the top are afforded the perspective of a view of a world much bigger than they are; a reward for the labor of achieving it.

In these two examples, we have a setting built in the imagination of our protagonist based on rumors from her childhood. Her friends may have ventured to this place when very young, been frightened by the trees, the large buildings, the people who might have been very different from those from the land of their birth. This setting is stays with us and the protagonist all the way to her destination. Then we see that this is actually only partially true, and that with her own eyes, the protagonist sees the buildings, the trees, the dogs, the people, for what they really are.

Our setting has changed.

In any given story, we will more often than not have multiple settings. Even if it takes place in only one city throughout the entire story, there will be more than one. Our characters will venture from the slums of their home, to high society once they’ve attained a job. They may perhaps earn enough money to move from the slums to middle society where they will own a home in a nice community.

One day a dragon may fly overhead and torch the entire city. Now we have another setting; one of fire, ruin, and death. To stop the dragon, our protagonist may seek the help of a wizard who gives him the ability to breathe underwater, and he ventures deep into the caverns of the ocean to seek help from a water dragon to battle the evil wyrm who destroyed his home. In his journey to the water dragon, we see all manner of sea life.

Why have I illustrated all of this? That’s the fun part. We go to a film, open a book, go to a play, to suspend real life for a while. We wish to be transported into a setting not our own, whether real or fictional. Some readers love political thrillers, while others enjoy flying on the back of a dragon. With either of those genres, a character must be somewhere. Be it in a courtroom, in front of the desk of the Prime Minister of a country he was just caught spying in, or in the lair of a dragon who would love to know why he shoved that one coin into his pocket. A character’s journey cannot happen without a place to journey within. Even in their own mind, there is some kind of setting.

So go forth, lovely readers. Find a setting and dive into it. Pick up a game controller and do things in ancient Egypt, Rome, Japan. Open a book and leap through the treetops over the shoulder of a band of wood nymphs. Settings are as endless as our imaginations, and our abilities to use the built-in virtual reality of our own minds to visualize them. And isn’t that, a truly wondrous and wonderful thing?

 

 

About the Author:r_terrell_030513_0129_web

Ramón Terrell is an actor and author who instantly fell in love with fantasy the day he opened R. A. Salvatore’s: The Crystal Shard. Years (and many devoured books) later he decided to put pen to paper for his first novel. After a bout with aching carpals, he decided to try the keyboard instead, and the words began to flow.

As an actor, he has appeared in the hit television shows Supernatural, izombie, Arrow, and Minority Report, as well as the hit comedy web series Single and Dating in Vancouver. He also appears as one of Robin Hood’s Merry Men in Once Upon a Time, as well as an Ark Guard on the hit TV show The 100. When not writing, or acting on set, he enjoys reading, video games, hiking, and long walks with his wife around Stanley Park in Vancouver BC.

Connect with him at:

http://rjterrell.com/

R J Terrell on facebook

RJTerrell on twitter

 

Setting in Urban Fantasy: Tool, Character, and a Pacing Device

A guest post by R.R. Virdi

It’s a cool night, the sort you’d find in late Autumn. You’re in the dark and gritty underbelly of your city rooting out crime and all without a weapon. What’s left?

The concrete below you. Brick walls. Maybe the unforgiving and cold metal of the railings lining the old apartment buildings. Enter the 2008 film, The Spirit, an adaptation of the Frank Miller comic. We’re brought to Central City on a nighttime patrol along with the fictional character the movie is named after. It’s one heck of a showcase on how setting is more than just a place.

We’re treated to a near-romantic inner monologue about the relationship The Spirit has with his city. It’s his weapon, a tool to sleuth through, fight back with, and it’s really a she, and she’s one great character.

Rewind back to your early schooling. You’re taught that setting is a place. You’re told how to fill out neat little boxes and describe your surroundings a bit too literally. There’s no life. Everything’s a compilation of objects. That’s it.

Or is it?

Setting is malleable—a living thing. One of the greatest places to see that as a working example is the cities littering the world around you. But, if that’s too much, try urban fantasy. From superhero comics, to novels starring magically powered protagonists, cities offer a certain complexity and variable use to the old writer’s tool of setting.

What do I mean?

Well, take New York’s favorite wall crawler, Spiderman. The boroughs of New York are microcosms of the world. Bustling hives of activity that add color and vibrancy to Spiderman’s life. But through those throngs of people are endless and often unseen dangers. There’s an undertone of possible threat each and every time Spidey is navigating the concrete jungle on the ground or in the air.

Urban fantasy relies heavily on its setting to put in place the tone of the series. You city is your character. It’s your maze, a living history, and a multi-tool. You can do nearly anything you want with it.

When you have a city, well, you know have all the sorts of people and institutions you’d expect with it to work with. Everything from billionaire CEOs as characters who’d call it home, to the less fortunate. Now, push either or both of those sorts of people to a life of crime. Congrats, you’ve now birthed someone like Gotham City’s Black Mask, or, Joe Chill.

Cities are melting pots of people and architecture that give you an endless literary sandbox to work in. Imagine the long, open streets of New York’s grid system. Pretty nice place to set a foot chase, even a car one. Great line of sight, tons of bright lights and activity. Now imagine you’ve taken a few wrong turns and are winding down unfamiliar alleyways.

Oops.

Great place for an ambush. Maybe cornering your target. Too bad you weren’t carrying a weapon to defend yourself. I hope you’re good with your hands. And if you are, you just might find yourself in a handy place to be. Hard surfaces can be your friend. Cities have no lack of those.

Navigating them can be a chore or an adventure, and in all of that, a bit dangerous if you want it to be. Within this page, you’ve already seen one city be a weapon, a threat, a multi-tool for different scenes and pacing, whether high pumping chases or heart pounding ambushes, to a home that shapes its people into protagonists or villains.

Urban fantasy relies on that. Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files is the perfect example. Bring on Chicago, an endlessly diverse city with a history of dirty politics and money, tough law enforcement, a forgotten under town, and a great balance of towering concrete monoliths and everyday suburbia as its landscape.

What can’t you do with all of that?

It’s a place that could be home to a hardworking blue collar father raising his kids in the suburbs. And at the same time, the city that birthed an iron-hard gangster who clawed his way to the top of the criminal underworld. One city, two different people coming out of it.

It nurses the beautiful and opulent Gold Coast, where some of the human and paranormal elite make their wealth and power known. The second you show up, you get the hint. It sets quite a tone. It also changes the battlefield. Slugging it out in a skyscraper business center is way different than the open ground of a suburb. But, if you’re Chicago’s resident wizard, you’ll be called on to do both, and more.

You’ll be asked to lurk and skulk through alleys, boxed in both sides with one way out ahead of you, and one behind. But, it’s not that easy keeping an eye over your shoulder in that setting and one on what’s before you. Nice way to get trapped or attacked.

Moving through one city environment allows a creator to control the pace however they want because cities offer it all. Sluggish public transport, leaving you crowded, pressed for time and up for danger, should the writer feel like it.

Enter any number of thriller novels and movies with a close quarters fight on a subway.

Or, let’s cut to hoofing it on foot through massive crowds on the streets. Always great if you need to eat up some of your character’s time. And through it all, it’s an experience. Cities always come with a five-way sensory assault. Ones that can go overboard.

Blitzing and jarringly bright colors, ear-rattling sounds, sometimes smells you wished you couldn’t pick out—ones you can almost taste. Not to mention the air that seems to cling to you like a second skin or a thin film of hot breath and unclean air.

There’s a certain set of voices to each city. Blaring traffic, clamoring people, chittering electronics, and let’s not forget construction.

Yeah, cities are certainly a setting, but they’re a living one. They’re something that you can’t really pin down. They’re something to be experienced and are in reality, entire world’s of their own. They certainly have enough slices of our globe nestled within them.

Setting isn’t just a place, it’s a tool. It can be as strong a character as you want it to be. Heck, cities already have names and reputations, what more do you want? They’re alive. Do something with them. Give them a chance to pop out and shine.

Want to really get into the mind of your reader, make sure you choose one heck of a place for your characters to live and act. If you do, that place may end up living on in the reader’s mind long after they close that book.

Cities, you can end up lost in them, and in more ways than one.

 

 

About the Author:ronnie


R.R. Virdi is the Dragon Award—nominated author of The Grave Report, a paranormal investigator series set in the great state of New York. He has worked in the automotive industry as a mechanic, retail, and in the custom gaming computer world. He’s an avid car nut with a special love for American classics.

The hardest challenge for him up to this point has been fooling most of society into believing he’s a completely sane member of the general public. There are rumors that he wanders the streets of his neighborhood in the dead of night dressed in a Jedi robe and teal fuzzy slippers, no one knows why. Other such rumors mention how he is a professional hair whisperer in his spare time. We don’t know what that is either.

Follow him on his website. http://rrvirdi.com/

Or twitter: @rrvirdi or https://twitter.com/rrvirdi

 

Brand Identity

A guest post by Kevin J. Anderson

Kevin J. AndersonWhen I started my career with traditionally published novels, my editors and publicists encouraged me to make sure I mentioned the publisher whenever I talked in interviews and panels. I would promote my novels and proudly announce that it was “from Signet Books” or “from Bantam Books” or HarperCollins, or Warner, or Tor. I would print up my own postcards and bookmarks, sometimes even take out ads in publications. Once, I was roundly criticized for forgetting to put a publisher’s logo on the back of a postcard (that I paid for out of my own pocket).

It’s a basic commercial principle to promote brand loyalty among your consumers. Coke drinkers always drink Coke. Budweiser drinkers always drink Bud. Car owners are loyal to Ford or to GM. But…publishers?

I was an avid reader, a dedicated writer, earnestly trying to get a foothold in the industry. I paid attention to the news, to the editors, to shifts in publishing, but even I would have been hard pressed to define the difference between, say, an Ace science fiction book and a Roc science fiction book (yes, they are now under the same parent company). Or a Tor epic fantasy instead of a DAW epic fantasy.

Sure, there are some exceptions, most notably Baen Books, which has not only carved out a niche and a brand for themselves in the types of fiction they publish—generally reader-driven and fast-paced rather than literary and artsy-fartsy—and they even have a distinctive brand look with their cover art and type design. Baen has also drawn together a very devoted group of their core readers through parties at conventions, online forums, and extremely loyal authors.

But that’s the exception. As an author, I’ve been published by Signet, Tor, Bantam, Ace, HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, Pocket, Gallery, Kensington, Hodder & Stoughton, Warner, Baen, and more. Some of those books or series went out of print from one publisher to be picked up by another. Did my readers really notice the brand name on the spine, or did they go for the author or the series?

The dramatic changes in the book industry lag behind similar changes in the music industry. When was the last time you actually paid attention to what record label your favorite band or album was on? Who released Led Zeppelin? Pink Floyd? Celine Dion? Taylor Swift? My favorite band Rush was on Mercury Records for their first several albums, but at some point it changed to “Anthem Records.” As an administrative matter with behind-the scenes paperwork and distribution, it made a difference to the band, but as a listener, it made no difference to me.

Same with movie studios. I’m pretty sure everyone knows the original Star Wars movies were from 20th Century Fox because of the seminal fanfare before the rollup text, but—quick!—which studio released the Predator movies? The Transformers movies? The Twilight movies?

One of the little-recognized consequences of the widespread changes in publishing and the surge in indie authors is that it has almost entirely erased the lines of brand identity for publishers. Most indie authors create a “publishing house” and a logo for their own books. In a few years, what used to be a dozen or so major publishing houses and hundreds of smaller ones including university presses, has become hundreds of thousands of imprints, all of which look “real” on the amazon listing.

When you order a book called The Ogre’s Toothache because the title is intriguing, the cover art looks good, the story sounds amusing, and you’ve read something by that author before, do you really notice—and more important, does it affect your buying decision—whether the publisher is listed as Gallery Books or Moonglimmer Books? (Gallery Books is real, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, but I just made up Moonglimmer Books…though I wouldn’t be surprised if such an imprint actually exists somewhere.)

When Rebecca Moesta and I formed WordFire Press, it was merely an exercise to release the eBooks of my own out-of-print backlist, to which I had reacquired the rights. We had called our own company WordFire, Inc. for many years, so WordFire Press was the obvious name. We had no intention of building it into a much larger publishing company. Rebecca herself created our original WFP logo with a graphics program, and then other author friends of mine, seeing the success of our original releases, came to us with titles of their own, and our publishing company unintentionally expanded.

At first, we took all kinds of books from author friends, some out-of-print romances, some unusual nonfiction titles. (In fact, technically, our very first book was a rather esoteric religious treatise by Rebecca’s father, which we published as a gift for him.) We didn’t really have a brand identity, nor did we intend to, but as we grew and we saw which books performed well and which ones didn’t, we started to focus on particular types of fiction, mainly the kind of stuff I liked.

As we revamped our website, we also got a snazzy new logo. We built up our author and title list, and we started to get a little more attention through word of mouth. But the real thing that began to draw recognition as “WordFire Press” rather than “Some Publisher” was our monumental effort of exhibiting at numerous conventions, comic cons, and pop-culture shows around the country. We gave our authors a chance to meet fans face to face, hand-sell and autograph their books, an opportunity to be seen by thousands of potential readers in a day. In 2016 we did 22 shows with a total attendance of 1.5 Million people. (That was insane, and those operations are now run by Rabid Fanboy, so that I can concentrate on the publishing end and, more importantly, my own writing career.) But even under Rabid Fanboy, the “Bard’s Tower” gives ambitious WordFire authors the opportunity to have the “famous author experience.”

But do I think that readers have a strong brand loyalty, that they pick up a book because it has the WordFire Press logo on the spine, rather than because it has a story that fascinates them, an author they’ve enjoyed before? No, I don’t think so.

Now, more than ever, you can’t rely on the brand of a publisher. You have to rely on your own brand as an author or the brand of your series. You have to rely on YOU.

Guest Writer Bio: Kevin J. Anderson is the author of more than one hundred novels, 47 of which have appeared on national or international bestseller lists. He has over 20 million books in print in thirty languages. He has won or been nominated for numerous prestigious awards, including the Nebula Award, Bram Stoker Award, the SFX Reader’s Choice Award, the American Physics Society’s Forum Award, and New York Times Notable Book. By any measure, he is one of the most popular writers currently working in the science fiction genre. Find out more about Kevin at Wordfire.com.

Brick Cave Media, the Challenge and Fun of a Small Press

A guest post by Robert Nelson

Brick Cave Media is a small publisher based in Mesa, AZ. One does not normally think of Mesa Arizona being hub for small publishing, but Brick Cave Media traces it’s roots back 23 years to the arrival of founder Bob Nelson and the start of a literary magazine called Anthology.

Today, Brick Cave Media represents 9 different authors across 2 states, with over 50 titles in publication.

While we function mostly as a publisher in the traditional sense, we benefit from having a small, agile team that can change direction quickly as needed. We have a passionate staff of 4 that wears all the hats of a full business, and a halo of editors, artists and others that support the Press’ efforts.

As a small press, our authors interact with each other, which we encourage, because we want them to be a source of encouragement and to share the opportunities that an indie author may not have alone. As a Press, we work to offer opportunities of scale, representation at events that indies may find daunting or financially challenging on their own and access to distribution opportunities that we can focus on while the author can continue to focus on writing.

A small press, the RIGHT small Press, can be a great vehicle for an author. We at Brick Cave tell every prospective author that there is nothing we do that you cannot do yourself, if you choose in invest the time and resources. That is not playing down us or any other small press, that’s an acknowledgement of the realities of what the last 25 years have done for the industry. Choose a small press based on what you want them to do for you, not for what you think you cannot do.

Brick Cave became a publisher through an interesting story. The business itself was founded in 2006 as a spoken word audio label, producing spoken word albums, and taking advantage of the MP3 revolution that occurred at the turn of the century. In 2008, the business added film company to it’s roster, as the company produced the feature film Sacrifice (available on Amazon).

In 2009, Author J.A. Giunta approached Brick Cave CEO Bob Nelson about publishing his fantasy novels. The two had worked together previously on Anthology literary magazine in 1994-1996. Because the Amazon Kindle platform had just debuted and there was a curiosity about how they could leverage the platform, Nelson agreed to publish Giunta and a deal was struck. In 2010, the Press added Sharon Skinner, and in 2011, started printing paperback editions of their books. In 2010, Brick Cave started making public appearances at local conventions (originally to promote Sacrifice, but eventually the books took over) and from there the business grew. In 2016, book sales accounted for 85% of Brick Cave’s annual revenue, and Brick Cave makes 12-15 appearances each year promoting new titles.

Originally, Brick Cave, because of it’s connections to the poetry non profit Anthology, was heavily poetry focused. To this day, Brick Cave maintains a strong roster of poets and release 1-2 titles a year. With the addition of J.A. Giunta and later Sharon Skinner and others, the Press expanded to include traditional fantasy, science fiction, and urban fantasy.

The future is bright for us. We have worked hard to, in a sense, grow up a little as a business, and put ourselves in a position to handle more books, and more authors. We are looking for smart, determined and creative authors that want to be a part of a larger story. We are working to build brand, so we are recognized well beyond our traditional borders. We are looking to get our titles in more places, our authors in more signings, and increase our profile.

As an author, if you are looking to use a small press, start with and examination of yourself, and make an honest list of the things you would like to keep control of and the things you would be willing to let someone else handle for you. Then profile the small presses that match you and your writing style, talk to strength in areas you want them to handle, and look like they would meet your expectations. Buy a book from them and read it. Reach out to them and ask for submission advice. Follow their guidelines. Be the model submitter that they can point out to others.

Also, understand that the majority of small presses are generally overworked, organizationally stressed, and financially limited. Keep your expectations in line with reality. If you start the relationship right, by researching and finding the best match for your style and your work, a small press can be a very powerful partner in a writer’s career.

Learn more about Brick Cave at https://brickcavemedia.com